David Cooley fondly recalls taking his now-grown daughter, Jody, to the 7 a.m. Mass at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Newark Valley.
“Father Matthew Siudara was the pastor of the church (at the time),” said Cooley, who has attended St. John the Evangelist since 1969. “After Mass we would go over to the rectory and he would fix her cereal. Those were good days. I’ll always remember those days.”
Cooley and others were quick to recount happy memories of St. John the Evangelist parish life as an Aug. 6 celebration of the 125th anniversary of the church’s Jan. 8, 1881, dedication drew near. All in all, one parishioner observed, not much has changed about the church building and community in the past five decades.
“One of the biggest changes in the past 50 years is the church going from a rural, agricultural community parish to a parish that … now serves a rural area with people who are involved in activities in the urban center, in Binghamton,” said Mary Zimmer, a parishioner since 1969 who noted that her family has attended the church since the early 1900s. “The people are still the same friendly rural people. They come to church as a positive experience and stay around to socialize.”
Both Zimmer and her husband Don said that it isn’t unusual to find people still chatting well after Mass has ended. This sense of community has never changed, Mary Zimmer said, and outsiders are welcomed into the parish with open arms.
“There is very much concern for fellow parishioners,” she added. “People will always say ‘we missed you’ or ‘where is the rest of your family?’ if someone is sick.”
Mary Zimmer is part of the committee that has organized a 125th-anniversary Mass and picnic. It was scheduled to take place at Trout Ponds Park Aug. 6 with an 11:15 a.m. outdoor Mass followed by food, activities and games for families. Since St. John the Evangelist has been a vibrant part of faith in the Newark Valley community for 125 years, Mary Zimmer said the entire community has been invited to attend the celebration.
The Zimmers’ two daughters were raised in the parish and have since married and moved to other towns and other parishes. They often tell their father that they miss the closeness they felt at St. John the Evangelist, which they say they don’t find at larger churches.
“(St. John the Evangelist) has always been very open, everybody was closely knit, and new people become closely knit very quickly,” observed Don Zimmer, who said his grandparents were married at the parish and he was baptized there in 1939. “It is a very nice feeling when you watch generations after generations come through.”
With parish consolidations — St. John the Evangelist and four other Tioga County-area churches joined in 2003 to form Blessed Trinity Parish — and bigger churches being built in the Binghamton area, Cooley said sometimes parishioners worry about the future of “the little church in the valley.” He said he hopes St. John the Evangelist will go on for many more years.
“I would assume it’s going to be here for many years to come,” he said. “I would hope that anyway.”
For 13 years, Father William Moorby — who is pastor of Blessed Trinity as well as St. Patrick Parish in Owego — has been St. John the Evangelist’s pastor and said he’s enjoyed his time there.
“So far (the church) has met the needs of the parish,” he said. “It has been altered at different times, and we’ve had renovation at different times.” Parishioners or friends have done most of the renovations the church has needed, Don Zimmer noted.
Father Moorby said he would like to expand the church at some point so its two Sunday Masses can be consolidated into one. Right now, the church doesn’t have enough space to do that, he said.
St. John the Evangelist has about 250 families, according to the parish’s deacon, Deacon Warren Rutan. Both he and Father Moorby said they particularly enjoy the involvement of the parish’s young children, many of whom participate weekly in the Liturgy of the Word.
“Father Tom Watts is a retired priest who does one Mass a weekend. And when he comes here he always marvels at the kids and thinks the kids are great,” Deacon Rutan said.
When asked about his favorite parish memories, Deacon Rutan recounted Father Moorby’s first Easter vigil Mass there in 1994.
“That was just a truly wonderful experience,” he said. “We brought 17 people into the church at that Easter vigil, from an infant to a mature adult in his late 50s or early 60s.”
The beautiful music played at each Mass is something that Don Zimmer said he appreciates. He recalled a time when his mother was the church’s organist and noted that guitarists now play during Masses.
“The number of little kids that stand up with their parents when they sing is amazing,” he said. “If you do that it’s just like praying twice.”